Ever wonder why the Tea Party and their corporate masters hate the poor? Why they delight in kicking those who are already down, stealing the bread from a starving widow’s mouth, kicking the walker out from under a disabled veteran? Why they praise each other for taking from those who have so little and giving that little to someone who already has too much?
In 1904, Max Weber attempted to answer these questions in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. For those who have not read it, here is the McCamy Cliff Notes Version, with one big footnote.
“So, wherever the doctrine of predestination was held, the question could not be suppressed whether there were any infallible criteria by which membership in the electi could be known.”
“Labour in a calling was also the ascetic activity par excellence…God Himself blessed His chosen ones through the success of their labors.”
“This consciousness of divine grace of the elect and holy was accompanied by an attitude towards the sins of one’s neighbors, not of sympathetic understanding based on the consciousness of one’s own weakness, but of hatred and contempt for him as an enemy of God bearing the sins of eternal damnation.”
“We know only that a part of humanity is saved, the rest is damned.”
“For the damned to complain of their lot would be much the same as for animals to bemoan the fact that they were not born as men.”
“In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of a sport.”
What does it all mean?
In the days before the mega Churches, we would visit a tiny, unadorned white chapel each Sunday. As we sat on the butt numbing wooden benches, the preacher would go on and on about the fires of Hell, and about how sinners would burn in agony for all eternity. There was no air conditioning back then. As the sun rose in the sky, the church would become hotter and hotter---and so did the minister. Until it came time to baptize a new member. Then, the glass pool full of water came out. Dressed in white robes, the woman was immersed in the coolness of divine grace. As children, we could not help but think that the water looked so inviting. Better to be saved and swim in that cool pool forever than to be damned and burn in the fires of Hell, that were probably a lot like Texas on a hot, August Sunday.
On another north Texas August day, in 1976, a wealthy oil man named Cullen Davis broke into his estranged wife’s home. He shot his wife and killed her daughter and her boyfriend. There were eye witnesses, and yet, the jury acquitted him, because he was rich and because he could hire Racehorse Haynes, the best of the best, to be his lawyer. We were surprised, but not too surprised. Growing up in America, we had learned that some folks---rich folks--- were better than others. Their clothes were more sumptuous. They could run for president on a whim and the press would treat them like serious candidates. Reporters followed them everywhere they went, recording everything they bought, ate or said. We all learned early in life that the best things in life could be bought with money, and our greatest ambition was to win the lottery.
In that same year, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan told us about the Welfare Queen. Like all Big Lies, we did not believe it at first. We had lived through the 1960s, when white policemen turned fire hoses and dogs on Black children whose only crime was wanting to go to school and grow up to vote. We were skeptical of the divide and conquer rhetoric of the corporate bosses---
Gradually, the Welfare Queen Big Lie began to sink into the national psyche. Four years later, people would start to claim “I’m a social liberal, but an economic conservative.” As if you could hand out freedom and dignity but confiscate the money. In 1980, interest rates were too high and gasoline was in short supply, because a Black woman somewhere was stealing our money to feed her sins----gluttony and lust.
We got so used to looking for the Black Woman who was the cause of our misfortunes that we stopped seeing the poor children and the poor disabled and the poor elderly. We forgot that when we were little, the sight of another person hungry or sick or in tears would move us almost to tears. Here’s a true story. When my five year old son and I went to Mexico City, he insisted that we give to every beggar we passed. At five, it would not occur to him not to take pity on someone so thin, so desperate, so poor, when he knew that we had pockets full of money.
Now, it is August in Texas again. Every day, I open my local newspaper, expecting to see that the press has finally noticed the high unemployment and low insured rate in my part of Texas. And every day, I read, instead, about how this business needs a tax abatement and that agency says that we need more urban gas drilling. I guess I can understand it. Rick Perry is running for president, and it would not be patriotic for a Texas paper to draw attention to our own poor. No, poverty is something they have in blue states. Poverty is a scam designed to help promiscuous women eat steak and drive Cadillacs. Real poverty has no face and no voice---
Unless you happen to wonder through the pharmacy at the local charity hospital and overhear the mother begging for a voucher, because she can not afford the copayment on her son’s medication.
Unless you happen to drive down the street where the homeless, many of them veterans, congregate on corners, waiting for the missions to open.
Unless you happen to ask the woman waiting for the bus why her face is tear stained. If you asked, you might be surprised at her answer. She might tell you a tale of so much bad luck and such misery that you would walk away a changed person---